Meet the Flintstones – A Modern Stone Age Family – A Page Right Out of History



Once again time has flown by and I have written nil. There is so much time yet so little time for me to sit down and write. I have been brainstorming ideas to follow up my Thanksgiving blog and all I can think of is a theme around adapting. China really is a double-edged sword for me; there are days I genuinely cherish my experience and everything around me, and the days where I wonder just how China could be such an up and coming power. I guess there are different priorities that run through our minds. It seems we have different definitions of what “common sense” is, different rules for how to behave. I have had this conversation with some of my business students and we all agree that education really is the underlying need for a sustained change. Without education there is no spark for change, no motivation to evolve and grow. I have found myself becoming more accustomed to some aspects of this culture, while further from other parts of it. However, it is important I remain cognizant that I too am a student and in my studies I am bound to encounter challenges.  Here is what I have been learning to adapt to…

 

1. Sleeping on Bedrock

 

The whole inspiration for this blog took place one morning around 2 am. I was lying in bed reminiscing about home. Over the years I have learned it is really nice when you can have something you truly appreciate in your life every day. I have two things, my car and my bed (Being from California it seems we spend a lot of time in both!) Anyhow, I was remembering how it used to feel to fall into bed and snuggle into my flannel duvet/down comforter and crisp thousand-count sheets. I then fast-forwarded to my arrival here in China. Six months ago I could barely get to sleep because the bed was so hard. It was as if someone had placed a thin sheet over a 2 by 4 and called it a bed. I may as well have been sleeping on the ground. For about 2 weeks I would steal the cushions from the couch and walk them to my room on the second floor. However, somewhere along the way I adapted. I began sleeping my usual 8 hours. I thought to myself, how many other things have I learned to live with while living abroad?

(My bed at the Hostel in Yangshuo)

 

2. Traveling, Getting Lost and Making Friends

A few weeks ago I decided to travel to Yangshuo, a small town just outside of Guilin in Guanxi province. It is known for its enormous and uniquely shaped limestone mountains that covet the entire region. These are the same mountains depicted in a lot of tradition Chinese art, the misty mountains with small temples clinging to cliff sides. I was in for a treat to say the least.

I finished work Sunday around noontime and headed towards the train station. The train station in Guangzhou was comparable to the largest herd of human sheep I have ever seen. It was amazing to see so many people fit into such a small entrance, the bottleneck indeed. I made it through the 3 checkpoints and had a beer to congratulate my self. I was to board an 11-hour train ride northwest of Guangzhou.

The journey to Yangshuo was awesome. I had another beer on the train and began conversing (as much as possible) with the people on the train. Before I knew it I had made many friends. By 12 am everyone was asleep except the train attendants. I sat down in the train restaurant and was bombarded with questions from 6-8 attendants and chefs. In China, there is a simple conversation that will most likely take place if you begin conversing. I will get into this a little later. After my long conversation I walked to my room and climbed to the top (3rd) bunk more than 14 feet high. It was like an adult sized jungle gym getting into bed…

I arrived the next day in Guilin and quickly caught a cheap bus into Yangshuo. When I arrived I found my hostel, met some of my new roommates and rented a bike. I was told to go a few miles up the road and take a left. There was a bridge that I would cross and a “trail” that would lead me back to the town. When I arrived I was bombarded with people trying to sell me bamboo rides down the river but I wouldn’t have it, I was exploring. I met a nice Dutch dude at the bridge and we decided it would be best to combine efforts. It was a misty day, the mountains looked ominous as the fog blanketed through.

The path started off ok. We meandered through a wide trail that stuck fairly close to the river. After 15 minutes the trail disappeared. All of the sudden I was in real rural China. There was nothing around me but farmland, villages, water buffalo, and rice patties. The path had turned into a 6-inch dirt rut that we were to follow for the next 2 and a half hours. In and out of people’s back yards and across beastly animals I finally felt I was experiencing the China I had envisioned months before. I knew this was out there but I was restricted by the structures of city living. Although completely lost and at the mercy of the many people we asked for directions we discovered a paved road. The road went on for a bit and then disappeared again.  This was to happen for several hours until we found a highway. It was there we made our way safely home. During this time I gained a whole new appreciation for paved roads and proper signs.

Later that night I had dinner with my roommates. The hostel I stayed in prepared a home cooked meal for us and we sat around like a family, one big foreign mix up. There were 2 Belgians, 2 Aussies, a Brit, a German, a Chinese girl, a Spanish woman and 2 of us Americans. We all shared our days and had good conversation. So convenient that English is the common language…

After dinner the Belgians, the Brit and I left to a special rooftop bar situated in the middle of town. The bar is called Monkey Janes and has a radical 360 view of the entire town. At night in Yangshuo, the giant limestone mountains are lit up with spotlights. It is a surreal feeling walking down the street seeing the mountains, which during the day knocked me breathless, continue their visual presence throughout the night. It was a splendid night. I met people form all over the world. The bar, although not pretty and comparable to a college dormitory, has its own special feel. To go with that college feel there was also a beer pong table set up. Everyone insisted that I, the American, must know how to play because of my nationality and I was forced into competition. I have never seen so many people that genuinely excited to watch a game of beer pong. I’m pretty sure none of them had ever seen it before. In America it is usually the four idiots playing that are interested but this became a spectator sport that night. Needless to say, I made a lot of friends playing a game I vowed I wouldn’t partake in years ago. After many free games of bp we moved to a club and danced the night away. First successful night in Yangshuo!

The next day I met one of my new friends and we made our way to the Mud Caves. The ride out there was insane, I was once again at the mercy of whoever was driving us. We had a great time. I am lucky to have ventured to Yangshuo during the week because usually it is filled with tourists. That day there was no one but my friend and I and several Chinese staff. After hiking through and playing in the mud bath we made our way to the man made hot springs. I spoke a bit of Chinese with our guide who must have liked us because he let us bath for over 2 hours. It was amazing; a series of hot spring pools within a giant cavernous cave. Right on Yangshuo…

The next day I went Kayaking and met an English couple. I spent about an hour bargaining with different agencies and I got my price (When in china…) The river was gorgeous. I saw many locals with their bamboo sticks fishing riverweeds out of the water to eat. Really made me grateful to have such diversity in what I eat.

Before I knew it the kayaking was over and I was in a true medieval village from the time of landowners. Rural China really is an amazing place.

3. Same Conversation, Different Language.

 

Learning Chinese has not been the easiest task. It doesn’t help that A. I am somewhat lazy and B. I am in the wrong part of China to be learning Mandarin (every speaks with a thick Cantonese accent) The most important thing for me to learn is how to communicate the things I need. I noticed something the other day after a short conversation, I have learned to communicate many of the same things I would say on a day-to-day basis. There is of course, the basic “excuse me” and “no worries,” but also simple needs. I have really been realizing the significance of communication here. In America, there are so many things I say and do that are a reflection of who I am and my personality. I have had to find a way to convey my mood and personality with very simple Chinese. Inside I have not changed but what comes out of me has! There are some really funny ways people ask how you are doing. The most popular is, “Have you eaten?” At first I thought this was an invitation to go out and eat but I quickly learned it is a polite way of asking how one is doing. In the past, if you had not eaten it was because you didn’t have any money or the chance. The tradition has carried on and people still ask to this day.

Just a simple epiphany I had the other day. Its funny how the simplest things can turn on that “light bulb.” With all this talk about verbal communication, thank god non-verbal communication is universal because if worse comes to worse, I can always do a sheraid and be understood through gesture. (Also allows me to be goofy as ever!) Of course, if I am ever misunderstood there are always smiles involved. I really have learned the importance of humor out here. My life becomes so bland if I haven’t had a good laugh in a while.

 

4. Bargaining

I had not experienced true bargaining until my trip to Yangshuo. I really utilized my limited Chinese speaking abilities to their max on this trip I would approach the potential seller and ask their price. Then I divided it by three and that was the price I would go with (sometimes I even went lower) I came away from Yangshuo with a traditional silk jacket, pant and robe, a pair of slippers, a funny communist hat and countless postcards. It was just too fun. I would tell the sellers my Chinese friend had been there a day before and paid the price I was asking. Several times they turned me down so I would turn around and act as if I was walking away. Seconds later they would shout out a lower price and I would continue the process until I got what I wanted. I even did this with tourist trips. Both the caves and the kayak trip were given to me at a considerably less price after 10 minutes of swindling! This really is an art and can take a lot of your energy. There were other times on the trip when I didn’t want to go through the hassle and would end up paying the extra 2 US$ for what I wanted.

It’s kind of funny. My mind has totally switched over from US dollar to Chinese RMB. I really am becoming Chinese in come ways!!

5. Sleeping in Small Places

I think this title speaks for itself. As 6-foot tall western man I don’t exactly fit into everything here. Bus seats are small, and beds on trains and buses are small. I had a horrific experience when I left Yangshuo boarding an 8-hour sleeper bus back to Guangzhou. I was placed at the end of the bus, in the corner no less, next to four other Chinese men. I was not thrilled to say the least. On top of that, I was in two of the possible positions where there was a cubby about 2 feet wide by 1 foot tall where my feet and legs up to my knees were to remain still. I could barely move for 8 hours!

My experience in Hong Kong has been better than the bus. I stayed in a hostel last week that at least allowed me room to stand up and a bathroom to relieve myself. You get what you pay for here. Apparently, Hong Kong is one of the most expensive markets for real estate in the world with a square foot averaging around 10,000 $/orRMB (I forgot). Expensive nonetheless…

 

6. Being Alone

 

My journey abroad has been loads of fun but there has also been a lot of down time. I am sometimes intimidated of being alone. I truly am a social and extroverted being. In my spare time I have been reading much more, listening to music, watching tons of really cheap DVDS (1DVD = 1US$), exercising, and drawing. Recently my Mom suggested one of the best books I have read in years. It is called “The Art of Racing in the Rain” by Garth Stein. The story is told through the eyes of a family’s dog. Enzo, the dog, turns out to be quite the philosopher as he tells the story of his master and family through thick and thin. I don’t want to give anything away but the book was simple, touching and often prompted me to think about the nature of life.

On the less serious or deep side of things my dad also sent me a book called “Shit My Dad Says.” This was really funny and I found myself laughing out loud several times. Thanks Dad.

Living abroad has forced me to create new hobbies or pursue old ones. Many of my old distractions are unavailable to me here: old friends, my car, family, familiar sights and foods, sports (disc golf!!)…

My parents used to tell me, “you learn the most when you are uncomfortable.” I can’t agree with them more.

 

7. Traffic

Watch First, then read: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QESfEd180

rQ&feature=player_embedded

I forget if I have mentioned the issue of traffic in my previous blogs but this is something I still have trouble becoming accustomed to. Driving in China is insane. To have a car here is a total privilege but people don’t behave like it. Be it other drivers or pedestrians, there is no common respect for the other people on the road. It is a bit frightening. It is rare to ever see blinkers or someone stopping at cross walks. People use their horns all the time. If there is something I won’t be able to adapt to in China it’s the traffic.

Another interesting traffic difference is how people have learned to walk here. In a country of over 1.4 billion people there simply isn’t enough sidewalk space. The Chinese have resorted to walking in the streets. This can be seen in many different parts of China. Embrace the madness, but better to look both ways before you cross…

 

8. Weather

I never would have guessed but my body has actually become quit sensitive to weather changes. In the past week the weather has become even cooler and drier. I have to be careful to not catch a cold. Since when have I been fearful of catching a cold? I’m getting soft out here!

 

9. Big Country, Small Portions

This is just a simple note but I really have learned to become satisfied with much less. When I think about all the food I used to eat I am amazed. I think I am more amazed that I used to eat so many big meals. These days I eat a small breakfast, a small lunch (if any) and have a fairly decent sized dinner. I actually do the opposite of many traditional Chinese. There is an ancient saying here about healthy diet that says: In the morning and afternoon feast like a king but at night eat like a beggar. Some Chinese believe if you eat a lot before bed you will grow fat. Of course there is some truth to this. If you eat a lot without burning it off, where else is it going to go? =0

 

10. Sharing

 

Put simply, I have found other ways to share my life. Thank you for reading my blog. Having your support really means a lot to me!

(Skype is pretty awesome too for being free and so cool…)

 

Closing Statements:

Art of Racing – humans always concerned with what they are going to have in the future as opposed to what’s going on now.

When you’re with the Flintstones, have a yabba-dabba-doo time,  a dabba-doo time, you’ll have a great ol’ time!!!

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Great Blog of China – Thanksgiving Issue

The month of October went by in a flash and I realized I have not written anything for a while. Although the month is over I would really like to recap on some of the things I have learned to enjoy and appreciate while living in China. Thus, I’ve decided to write this blog with the theme of ‘thankfulness’ in honor of the November holiday. I will attempt to communicate the things I am thankful for by sharing parts of my experience that have influenced my newfound appreciations. The Thanksgiving tradition in my family is to go around the table and share one thing we are grateful for. This year I have many things to share, but instead of going around the table and I would like post it in a blog to share with you, my family of friends on the Internet.Thanks for your interest and support. Enjoy…

1. The Ocean

I grew up in Santa Cruz, California. The sound of waves crashing often lulled me to sleep. One of the main reasons I chose San Francisco for college was that it had such a beautiful ocean and beach. Let’s just say the ocean is a significant part of my life and who I am. Living in Guangzhou I am not exactly near the ocean. There are many rivers that meander in through the city but they are not exactly the cleanest looking bodies of water. Needless to say, something has been missing…

Two weeks ago I received a curious job offer. I was to go into Hong Kong and visit a trade fair. The company who hired me wanted me to pose as their leader and spy on the competition; compare prices, check quality of products, record shipping times and minimum amounts to order. The reason they needed me was that I am foreign and more likely for competing companies to share their products with me. Apparently there is some tension between Mainland Chinese people and the people of Hong Kong. Although I don’t know the first thing about business, I decided “what the hey, could be a good adventure!” Right I was…

I took the bus into Hong Kong in the early morning. I was enjoying the sights of inland China and then I crossed the border. The bus on the other side immediately came to some bridges and then I saw it. The Ocean. There is some innate feeling that comes over me when I see the ocean. It reminds me I’m powerless, that a greater part of my life is out of my control. Something about this notion is rather comforting. Maybe it is just something from growing up next to the ocean. It covers the entire earth, touching so many places and things including me. It is what connects the world and divides us at the same time. I had been land locked for to long at that moment I was set free.

After this epiphany I knew I had to write this blog. There have been more and more things that I have been realizing I’m grateful for since…

2. Senses

There are so many lessons I have learned that are too often forgotten. These lessons lay dormant until something (often small) switches the proverbial switch and the light turns on. When I was young my parents sent me to all sorts of therapeutic interventions. The most effective was a series of meetings with a “healer.” I know what you’re thinking, and so was I. What kind of hippy-ass parent sends their child to someone who actually refers to them self as a healer? However, to much of my delight, I was mistaken.

During my time with Deborah the Healer, I learned several forms of meditation. In one of these forms I was taught to hone in to each of my senses. This seemingly simple form of meditation can be practiced any time and anywhere. It is away to focus and appreciate any given moment. Of course, it is extremely difficult to walk around every day sniffing, watching, listening, feeling and tasting everything around myself. There are simply too many other things in my life for me to focus all my energy at the here and now all the time. Somewhere along the line I lost sight of these practices and now and again the lesson on senses meditation comes back to me.

There are all sorts of interesting smells (good and bad), things to see, hear and taste here. I visited several Buddhist temples in the past month and was delightfully bombarded with the smell of incense. The worshippers make prayers and offer incense to their gods at an alter. There were also these giant rooms filled with pictures of deceased relatives. These rooms were filled with a sense of calm and the smell of apples and nuts that had been left by the deceased’s relatives.

Another simple thing I have been doing for myself is lighting scented candles. Seriously and put respectfully, how feminine does that sound? But seriously, I visited an IKEA where I purchased an Apple/Cinnamon candle. It reminds me of Christmas at my Mom’s and thus brings me home. Other smells that have taken me back are the smell of big American breakfasts. Every once and awhile I treat myself to some bacon/eggs/hashies. Nothing like a house reeking of bacon in the morning…

Some incredible tastes will be described in the Food Section.

The feeling from the weather will also be addressed in the Weather Section.

Sounds –> Proper Mandarin Section

3. The Barber Shop

Let’s just say that I have never dreamed of spending hours at a barbershop and much less enjoying the greater part of it. May I also add I was extremely apprehensive entering a Chinese barbershop for the first time. First of all, there are some freaking weird hairstyles going on out here. If there is one thing the communist party should sentence people to death over, it’s some hairstyles! Jk  Secondly, and more importantly, is the fact that my western and very curly/thick/Jewish hair is rarely dealt with and styled. The Chinese have very straight hair and I’m pretty sure it grows differently from mine. Anyhow my hair was getting long and I had to do something about it.

 

I decided to go with my Cantonese roommate who also needed a hair cut so that she could translate for me. When living in foreign countries it is sometimes wisest to do as the locals do. I’m sure happy I did for I was in for a treat.

We arrived and were immediately taken upstairs into the hair-washing department. They lie you down on a cot and proceed to shampoo and massage your head for 20 minutes. To my delight the massage also included my neck and shoulders. I went back downstairs and sat down. Then for an hour and a half the barber tried to figure out how to cut my hair how I wanted it. It seems a simple fade from the ears/sideburns up to the top of my head had never been done before. After much explaining and beginning to feel restless I was finished. Not bad at all. The best part is they took me back upstairs and did the whole hair-washing/massage thing all over again. I left without a clip of hair on my body.

How much you ask? A little less than 3 dollars! Gotta love China…

4. Successful Conversations

By the time I needed a second haircut I had been here for over 3 months. My conversation skills were getting better but I am always a bit apprehensive because I don’t know if the person I am going to be conversing with will have a thick Cantonese accent. Anyway, I went back to the same barbershop and laid down for my massage and shampoo. I ended up understanding a good deal of what the dude was saying and for the most part he understood me. It is so much fun when you can chat with a person in another language. I have had this experience before with French and even Spanish but it didn’t feel the same. Chinese words have no audible similarities to the romance languages. I also feel that in China there are fewer foreigners who are actually able to converse with the locals. This thought is validated by the reactions I get from Chinese people when I say just about anything in Chinese. Either it is because I sound ridiculously funny pronouncing things and/or they are truly excited to be able to chat with a foreigner but most of the time I am greeted with smiles and laughs. I can’t help but to do the same! After the conversation I realized how nice it felt to have been able to engage in conversation with the hair washer. A simple conversation can go a long ways for both parties…

5. Proper Mandarin

One of the greatest lessons I have learned taking a teaching job here in Guangzhou is that I should always do my research before signing a contract. I shouldn’t feel scared to ask any questions and am better off having the patience to wait for something right. I moved to China because I wanted to learn Chinese, proper Chinese. However, the province I reside in speaks Cantonese, a completely different sounding language than Mandarin. Everyone is required to know Mandarin but that doesn’t mean they can speak it correctly. I am often stumped over people’s pronunciations of certain words only to find its because they say the word differently. I’ve grown to really appreciate some proper Mandarin. It doesn’t sound nearly as foreign as I used to think back in the states. However, Cantonese is just as foreign as ever. It sounds like a kung fu fight with words. I still don’t enjoy hearing it first thing in the morning because it feels like someone is kicking the inside of my brain. I sometimes ask the people at my work to lay off it if it’s still early. The people here insist on saving the language as it used to be a language of the rich. It is also the primary languages spoken in Hong Kong and Macau. Maybe if I had more time or if I had chose this area to learn Cantonese then I would be a bit more enthusiastic. For now I’m gonna stick with Mandarin.

6. Well Mannered Students

This is actually a really ironic thing for me to be grateful for, as I wasn’t exactly the most well behaved student growing up in elementary, middle and high school. It is much different be on the other side of the spectrum. There are different expectations for students in China. When they are children there is a lot of fun to be had, however it gets very serious when they get older. Parents practice a sort of tough love and corporal punishment is very much alive. I have asked some of my Chinese friends during discussions about how they were raised and it seems parents never actually express their love verbally. The words “I love you” never leave the parent’s mouths. Incredible. Anyhow, a large part comes down to how the children are raised. It is really interesting to see the different interactions between child and parent with my less behaved students and my well-mannered students.

Example. I have this 4 year little twirt who has repeatedly misbehaved throughout the lessons. I didn’t pay it much attention until he pulled out his penis in class twice one day. Totally inappropriate. I told my Chinese boss to inform the mother. The next week he was bad again. This time I tried to tell the mother myself in Chinese. There was only so much I could say until my boss had to take over. When he did he started playing with the kid and babying him. He told me I was “annoying” for having addressed the issue myself and that he would “take care of it.” Apparently the Chinese way is to not address the issue directly but to sort of slip it in there at the right moment. Not the most effective tactic of you ask me, but hey, cultural differences. I have watched how the mother interacts with the child and she obviously spoils and babies him. Since that class a child has dropped out because his parents would not let him learn with the kid and I have been given a Chinese teaching assistant. My foreign boss said something quite profound when we were discussing this problem child. He said, “one of the biggest things for us as teachers is to forgive/accept them for their poor manners.” I try to keep that in mind.

On the more positive side of things are my well-behaved students. These are the ones who are always attentive and eager to learn. They engage in activity with me and are quiet when its time to be quite. They don’t let themselves get distracted by the other students but still find a way to have a good time. They are not necessarily the kiss asses either. I have several of these little cherry blossoms and they make teaching very pleasant for me. Why can’t they all be perfect like them? As someone once said, “nobody said it was gonna be easy.” Also, there is such thing as teacher’s favorite…

(a well-mannered student!)

7. Good Weather

My father used to tell me, “You are a product of your environment.” This saying goes for all aspects of life: social, spiritual, biological, psychological and of course physical. Having lived in San Francisco for the past 5 years I have become accustomed to a very comfortable style of living. A large part of this is due to the permitting weather.

I arrived at the worst possible time. Guangzhou in the summer is comparable to a sauna. As soon as you step outside the humidity wraps you up, your clothes are drenched in minutes. Average weather is 80-100 degrees with at least 80-100% humidity. This weather lasts until someone decides to turn the switch off. I think the typhoon is the catalyst because after several weeks of off and on massive storms the weather went from unbelievably humid and hot to unbelievably cool and wet. I have been ecstatic waking up in the morning to a cool wind breezing through my window and the feel of a long sleeve shirt. Not to mention I no longer rely on my air conditioner which I now may consider to be one of the greatest inventions ever. The summer has come to a close and I could not be more grateful. The hard part is over. I can now enjoy runs out by the lake and walk anywhere without having to carry a spare change of t-shirts. Thank you typhoon gods…

8. Confidence Teaching Skills/Experience

Peter Pan never wanted to grow up. My understanding is I need to accept life for what it is. An adaptive idea I’ve learned to find more and more valid is that the older you get the better. We have more life experiences to compare to and thus more knowledge to help us understand and appreciate ourselves/environment around us. When I started teaching I was always apprehensive. I had never led a class before much less several at a time. I had no previous experiences to compare to. However, as time has gone by I have become more and more comfortable with my teaching skills. There is a certain formula that seems to be really effective in teaching my students. I don’t even have to prepare much in advance anymore. Of course, there are different age groups and thus different formulas but I am getting more and more comfortable with them all. Right on life experiences…

9. Grapes – Halloween 2010

I don’t know if I believe in love at first sight in terms of a sole mate, but I do believe in love at first sight with my Halloween costume. For the past 6 years now I have been green or purple grapes for Halloween. Way too much fun. This year our school threw a little party with our students and parents. The Chinese don’t celebrate Halloween so it really is a fun and interesting experience for everyone. My Belgian and Polish colleagues also don’t celebrate Halloween so I was put in charge of the activities committee. I designed a haunted house, a “What’s in the box?” game, bobbing for apples, pin-the-broom-on-the-witch, and a face painting room. It really was a lot of fun, and no need to argue, “healthy fun.”  Haha

(This Yoyo. She is one of my favorites. She’s a bit of a problem child but knows when to behave. Good balance between fun and learning…)

10. Food

There are all sorts of new and old foods that I have begun to appreciate. Here are some:

Congee – also known as “zhou” is a rice porridge usually accompanied with some lettuce and meat. Great breakfast food as it is very light but filling.  Less than a dollar, usually 50 cents.

Lunch at school – I have learn to love this very simple dish at school. It is about 1$ and comes with sliced BBQ pork, vegetables, rice and chopped spring onions and ginger. Delish…

BBQ Eggplant – there are all sorts of outside bbq places where you can eat and drink for cheap until the very early hours of the morning. One of my favorite dishes here is bbq eggplant. It is doused in garlic and oil and grilled to perfection. You use your chopsticks to scrape the meaty white center out of the skin. Mouth watering indeed.

– Another good dish here is the dried squid which one dips in soy sauce and wasabi. This is like peanuts or pretzels when drinking.

Steak in Macau – After being abstinent from steak for over 4 months a steak was in great need. Came with fries and a peppercorn sauce. No need to explain anymore.

Portuguese soup – My first morning in Macau I was very curious to try some Portuguese cuisine. I had a soup that consisted of a watery potato base with some vegetables and thinly sliced pork inside. Very tasty….

Uighur – There are many regions of China, the largest of which is Xinjiang. Within this territory is an ethnic minority often referred to as Uyghurs. After a day exploring Buddhist temples we came upon a restaurant specializing in Uighur cuisine. There was a thin bread, kebabs, a sort of lamb pancake with green chili and cucumber/tomato salad. So simple, yet so gooood! =)

Korean BBQ – Saving the best for last, Korean BBQ has become my favorite cuisine out here. For starters, I often order Dok Pokki, thick rice noodles with a spicy tomato sauce. Then I order BBQ beef. It is cooked, sliced and served at the table. The tradition is to take the slice of beef and dip it in two special sauces. Then place the beef into a leaf of lettuce, throw on a slice of garlic and green pepper and enjoy. Truly amazing. And of course all Korean restaurants start by giving you an endless supply of free small dishes, about 6-10 different foods!

11. The Internet (Skype/Couch Surfing)

The Internet can offer a seemingly endless amount of possibilities. While abroad I have had the pleasure of seeing and chatting with my family and friends for free. Thank you Skype, I couldn’t have done it any other way.

Another interesting site is couchsurfer.com. This site is exactly what it claims to be. You apply for a user ID and then email other users across the world that will put you up on their couch. When I was first told about this I was apprehensive. Staying with a stranger and leaving my belongings with them did not sound like a safe or wise decision at all. However, I was happily surprised to meet Dan, a mid twenty-year-old Pilipino dude willing to put my roommate and I up for a couple nights. When we met him he was very welcoming, accommodating and hospitable. He was also very trusting as he gave us his keys the next day while he was at work. They say when you go to another country it is best to live as the locals do. What better other way than to stay with one and get the firsthand perspective on your surroundings? Right on Dan, you rock!

12. Family & Family of Friends

What can I say? You are the people that remind me who I am. I love being able to share this experience with all of you. There are not many English speakers here and even less whom I can truly express myself with. I can express myself but I am not always understood. Thank you for understanding. The man at the end of “Into the Wild” was dying when he realized one of life’s most important lessons, “Happiness is Sharing.” I am grateful to be able to share this wonderful adventure with you and the people here. As the Beatles so eloquently put it, “all you need is love.” Love makes the world round…

Wrapping Up

So much has happened in the past 4+ months it’s unbelievable. When looking back on my previous blogs I realize I have had to change the way I think in order to adapt to my new surroundings. There were lonely and difficult weeks when I’d ask myself what I was doing. In fact, I have questioned myself a lot in the past 4 months but have been more and more comfortable with my life on the world’s road. This is truly a life changing experience as I knew it would be. I have learned to appreciate my gut decisions and to embrace whatever is next. Too often I get caught up with the faults of my past or the unforeseen pressures of my future. So once again I am thankful for that moment where I was connected with the ocean. It in turn is connected to us all in some way. That whole bit about our bodies being 80% water is corny And true. =) It gave me something to be thankful for which means I had forgot about the past and future. Thankful to be thankful.

Happy Thanksgiving…

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

You Know You’re Becoming Chinese When…..

Saw this online somewhere. The majority of these are all true!!!

1. You start drinking hot water even when cold is available
2. When asked a question, you respond in inaudible grunts
3. After all phone conversations you end with a cheerful, “Bai Bai”
4. (Men) As the weather gets warmer you think its appropriate to liftyour shirt over your stomach exposing the rice stomach you developedover the winter
5. You text while squatting
6. You text while biking
7. You text while texting
8. Breakfast consists of a hot bowl of noodles, huntun soup, fantuan,jianbing or a couple baozi
9. Looking to pre-game but you’re low on cash? A 15 kuai bottle ofbaijiu sounds fantastic
10. When a laowai enters your home wearing shoes, you shove slippers in their chest
11. Screw waiting 5 seconds, when those subway doors open you tuck your head down and prepare for battle
12. You point and laugh at your friends when they have pimples
13. You start arguing to family and friends that the restriction ofcivil liberties is essential to prevent social unrest, ultimately maintaining the economic machine that has lifted tens of millions of people out of poverty. After justifying totalitarian rule, you launchinto a rant attacking Western media’s constant misconstrued reportsconcerning Chinese society and government
14. You feel a touch of pride every time China announces its latest GDP figures
15. You own a couple of Burberry print face masks to wear on days when the sky turns a tasty shade of brown
16. Using a fork is now a barbaric option
17. You betray your home country and start using QQ
18. You think a ping pong table is actually for playing ping pong
19. You have a business card even though you’re not working
20. You call chunjie, or Chinese New Year, the “holiday season”
21. Obviously green tea is going into that glass of scotch
22. Female armpit hair is no longer a deal breaker
23. You think saying “oh my lady gaga” is an appropriate substitute for“oh my god”
24. You know what cell phone all your friends and coworkers use and judge them accordingly
25. The world is your ashtray
26. You refer to other foreigners as foreigners
27. You get uncomfortable when you are around too many foreigners
28. You find 大山 entertaining and stop thinking he is a huge douche-bag
29. You have friends who mine gold in World of Warcraft (and they hook you up with gear)
30. You think a company that has 80% government ownership but listed on the stock market is “publicly owned”
31. You think drying clothes outside is clean because the sun’s power to kill bacteria overrides the filth that is Shanghai air pollution
32. You start biking everywhere because a 12 kuai cab is too expensive
33. You replace your table salt shaker with a toothpick holder
34. You have no qualms asking someone how much they pay for their rent/get paid for their salary
35. When a bus/subway seat opens up, you don’t feel bad taking it even though you knew someone else waited longer
36. You think a couple is rich if they have more than one-child, astroller, or the child wears diapers
37. You care more about people picking up after their dogs than their children
38. You’ve gone through 5 decks of business cards in 6 months of working
39. You’ve done KTV in the middle of the day
40. You go to Starbucks to order desserts instead of coffee
41. You eat and enjoy the Breadtalk/85degrees bread with the hotdog or meat floss on top
42. You say “好球” at least 40 times when watching a sporting event(regardless of what sport)
43. You’ve mastered the “Chinese pen flip”
44. You keep your TV remote controls in plastic wrapping
45. You believe traffic lights are simply a suggestion
46. You rationalize foot massages as a medical expense
47. Bad tones cause you to feel actual pain in your ears
48. Before buying anything you open it up at the store and fully inspectit for flaws
49. You NEVER leave the house without a package of tissues with you
50. You think the CCTV Pearl Tower looks great and is a well-designed piece of architecture
51. If your back hurts you head to the local medicine store and ask forthe crushed scorpion
52. You think buying breakfast, lunch or dinner at a convenience storeis ok
53. You have heated discussions during an event that others are tryingto pay attention to or enjoy
54. You think the odd, multicolored, workout machines in the park are actually great for your warm-up routine
55. You think the quickest way to get to know someone is asking theirzodiac sign
56. You find yourself loitering around after accidents hoping somethinginteresting happens
57. You prefer your housemaid to be from anywhere but Anhui
58. You put sprite/coke in your red wine
59. You bake in your wok
60. You linger in the gym locker room towel-less
61. Umbrella’s are for use on rainy and sunny days

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Another Day In Paradise – 3 month Anniversary

So I have been here for about 3 months now and am only beginning to understand the way of life out here. I had a little realization about a month ago. It is kind of amazing how old China and its culture runs. This country has been living within itself for over 2000 years while America is just getting started (maybe 200?). The people have been following certain traditions for longer than we can imagine in the US. On top of that it isn’t a melting pot like America or Europe. This country has 4 times the people in America but no where near the cultural diversity we have learned to live with. Being a foreignor here really makes me understand the meaning of foreignor. Now, I have travelled to many places in Europe but it is not the same feeling I get when I walk around China. Starting simply, I look different. Just walking down the street I am bound to turn heads. This can be a double edged sword depending on my mood. Sometimes I just wanna be by myself while other days I fully embrace it. I have fun conversating with the locals, practicing my chinese and making a fool out of myself. The point is there is always a good laugh involved. My Chinese has slowly improved. I have started by learning how to say the things that are important to my survival. Foods I like, exercise vocab, manners, basic(very basic) conversation especially important for my students, and maybe a few cuss words for when I am frusterated. All in all I am having a pretty good time however every once and awile I do feel the need to get my foreignor fix. It is tough to fully communicate when no one speaks your language. Exercise and skyping my loved ones has definitely helped keep me sane.

Hong Kong. A totally Rad place. Although on the border of China it is a completely westernized city. Very modern and diverse population of people. It almost weirded me out a bit. I found my culture shock when I went out to the bars a couple of nights. I forgot about the whole dynamic of partying and being young in the west was like. Definitely a weird feeling seeing all white people getting wasted and belligerent together. I had been on mainland for about two months and I was already getting used to be one of the only foreignors around. I was thinking about this earlier. There is a certain type of person that decides to travel and live abroad. I think we are all a little crazy in the same way! Another intersting aspect of Hong Kong was the language. Cantonese is the primary language, followed by English and last being Mandarin. Cantonese is a bizzare language. It sounds like a Kung Fu fight whenever they speak to each other. I cant even imagine what kinds of sounds they make in bed. Haha!! (sorry kids) All in all I was glad to have experienced Hong Kong. I am actually going back this week for business. Apparently there is one of our students who is part of a wine appliances (???) company and needs a white person next to him to make the company look good. I don’t really know the details but I am supposed to smile and eat free food so I am not arguing!! =p

A couple weeks ago I travelled to Shanghai. This place is awesome, magnificent even. Check out some pictures if you havnt seen it already. Look up the “bund” or “Pudong.”

I stayed right in the heart of the city at People’s Square/Nanjing Road. Psyching!!!! A truly modern and diverse city. I stayed with a buddy I made while in Paris three months ago(French dude), 2 Americans, a Belgian, and a German. It was an international mix up to say the least! We had some Italian friends that joined us several nights as well. One of the most interesting parts of this was watching how English created the common ground. Everyone had their respective mother tongues, but to have a good time and communicate English was the language of choice. It has been a trip going from Chinese dominated habitats to English ones. In Shanghai they speak more of a traditional mandarin (as opposed to Guangdong/Guangzhou/Hong Kong where Cantonese in dominant). It was real nice for me because my horrible Chinese was actually understood by a good part of the Chinese people I encountered. I had a great time there. I visited the World Expo and saw several exhibits. The Expo is what has brought so many foreignors to Shanghai. They really have cleaned up the city. I was thoroughly impressed with how clean everything was. It made Guangzhou look like a pig sty. Other sights were the Yuyuan Gardens and the Bund (see above).

School. School is still very interesting from day to day. This summer was a true test of my endurance. For a few weeks I was teaching 6-7 hours a day. That is a whole lot to be teaching, not to mention every class being a different level. I would start with kindergardeners, move up to 7-9 year olds, then 10-13 y/o, to 14-16 and end with a 2 hour one on one with a girl preparing for the Chinese version of the SATs for English. I was pooped to say the least. I have learned a lot about myself in this time. I can’t always expect lessons to go as I’ve planned. I can’t always expect students to behave a certain way. After all we are all different and some days are better than others. Classroom management and finding a balance between fun and learning have been my main focus. It is not always easy to find this middle ground. I guess I am happy if they are. Lately I have been preparing to teach Business English classes. I am a little apprehensive about this because I really don’t know much about business. I think my psychology education helps a lot but I don’t exactly have a business person personality. I don’t like to act like something I’m not. Ahh well, c’est la vie…

Anyways, life has been interesting. I look forward to the Asian Games starting here in Guangzhou in November. Should be interesting.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Touching Up on Touching Down (Finally)

So it has been a real long time since my last blog and I haven’t even started to describe life out here. It is most definitely a different culture. I have already learned so much about perspective and different ways of living. I have never felt so much like a minority. IT’s quite interesting. So much different from European or Middle Eastern culture that I have needed a lot of time to process exactly what is going on. (Not to mention learning how to teach, my teaching load, learning the language and trying to have some fun in the mean time)

For starters there are over four times the amount of people than the United States. It is easy to read this and not have any idea of just how many people I am talking about. I myself still don’t quite understand the significance of this statement. I am currently living in a gated community made up of over 150,000 people. There are supposedly over 22 different races and at least 10 different schools within. It is within this “community” which would better be described as a town or city where I see the majority of other foreigners. I would say I see an average of 5-10 other foreigners every day and it is only when I am near my home. Every morning I get up and get on a jam packed bus for about thirty minutes to my work in Shiqiao (this is not a city rather a large town). I have grown to become very comfortable with being the only foreigner. It can be kind of fun especially if I have had enough sleep… It is not like living in a diverse metropolis like San Francisco or New York. When I do go into the city of Guangzhou I see many other foreigners (However, I am mostly there at night and in a somewhat inebriated state!) People tend to stare a lot and love to practice the most well known English phrase, “HELLO.” Its actually really interesting, I was watching on TED.com that China may have, if not already, the largest English speaking population in the world. However, one most take into account the number of people.

Public Transportation and Public Areas. For awhile I have been trying to adjust to the way things are around here. There are so many people that there is a constant flux of pushing and shoving, running to get a good spot in line, a lack of manners, and spending a lot of time skin to skin with many people I don’t know. I was taught in my psychology courses that Asian cultures tend to be interdependent in nature while Western cultures are independent. My initial understanding was that in interdependent cultures the people look out for everyone and there is less stress on the “individual.” Part of this is very true. In my classes, when some of the less talented children are struggling the others literally step up to help them out. While riding public transportation, people will stand and give their seat away to the elderly and/or women with children. However, there are so many people that it is hard to consistently look out for everyone. Take driving/traffic for instance. It seems, in China, the driver has the right of way. Cars are not about to stop for a mother and her 2 baby children walking across the street! Stop lights are more of a suggestion and there is no such thing as using your blinker. This still scares the crap out of me but I am now used to making my way the right of way! In addition to bad driving habits, there have been so many instances where I see people walk into each other without saying anything (no excuse me, watch out I’m coming through, could you move?, communication via eye contact/body language). It sometimes seems as if there is no such thing as “personal space.” I know this sounds a wee bit ignorant but I had an epiphany the other day while I was in one of these crowded situations. It has taken me awhile to adapt to the “up close and personal” way of life out here. I know better than to make an initial judgment from my first few months’ impression. Cultures are always shifting and every day and instance will be different from the other. I want to be able to look at things with a positive spin. It is always a possibility that it is my perspective that needs shifting, I can always be wrong. That is why this epiphany was my inspiration to start writing again. China IS an interdependent culture. Everyone has accepted that there are gazillions of other people; space must be shared with everyone. Social norms are simply different here. It is like that whole social psychological idea of the “urban overload effect.” There are simply too many people to acknowledge and validate everyone’s presence (if one did there would be no time to think for oneself).

I have noticed that there is little emphasis on the individual here. I don’t quite understand the “style” as there are not as many radical trends similar to the ones taking place in Europe and America. However, there are so many different kinds of people here and in the world. I am currently living in Guangzhou aka Canton. Does this look familiar? Cantonese originated here. It was kind of weird when I got here. I couldn’t really hear the difference between the Chinese I learned in school and the Chinese known as Cantonese. It doesn’t help that I only learned a few months worth of Chinese which was diluted and covered up when I went to France and started practicing a little French again. Almost all the people here speak both Cantonese and Mandarin (aka Chinese). Their pronunciation is different from what I learned at USF. I hear the people from the north, like Beijing, Shanghai, Hunan and Harbing, speak much more “proper” Chinese. However China is a huge place. There are all sorts of different dialects and people. Just as the people from the South are Radically different in America, the people here in Guangdong are radically different from their neighboring provinces. Even within Guangdong there are different dialects and instances when the people have trouble understanding each other.

The Food! In general the food is quite tasty and quite cheap. I am already beginning to think like a Chinese person and my money. 1 US$ = 6.6 Chinese RMB. My lunch today consisted of chicken, rice, vegetables and bbq pork. It was 8 RMB. Of course, if I want to spoil myself I can spend anywhere from 15-50 RMB but hey, 8 or 9 bucks. Whatevs… I have had some cravings for my typical western cuisines though. A lot of the food is cooked with much grease. It has actually been quite difficult finding vegetables that are steamed! I have tried some amazing dishes though. A great breakfast food is Congee. This is like a rice porridge served with some pork or eggs, onions and thinly sliced ginger. Many people like to eat dumplings and/or noodles for breakfast but it’s a little heavy a start for me. (I imagine they think the same about western breakfast- bacon, eggs, hash browns, toast w/ jelly, sausage…) Another tasty breakfast I have tried are these little fried egg mixed with some sort of batter. Damn good. I’ll try and get a picture. Some cool dinners? Of course! There is this special type of restaurant called a “Hot Pot.” There is a large pot filled with some sort of broth (it can be spicy or not). It is then heated up till it starts boiling. Then your job as the guest is to order as many types of different meats and vegetables to put in and cook. Fabulous. I have really enjoyed these places on a few separate occasions. One place was a Sichuan Hot Pot and the other was a Mongolian Hot Pot. Different flavors and spices. Sichuan is known for its spicy overtones, maybe most comparable to Mexican food in the states because I hear many people from the north don’t enjoy spiciness. I have tried everything from Beef, Chicken, lamb, mushrooms, spinach, potatoes, and chili peppers to frog legs at these restaurants. Apparently the pig brain is supposed to be lovely but they had run out when I arrived!!!

Speaking of crazy new food, Cantonese people are also known to eat just about anything. I have tried duck and chicken feet within a couple weeks of being here. I still don’t know how I feel about this. Nothing like looking a claw in your eye and chewing on the remnants of a tendon. But it is supposedly a delicacy so I couldn’t say no. Haha. In some places people eat mice, the neck and head of chicken/ducks and I’m sure much more.

Now let me get this straight. I didn’t go out searching for the best chicken foot in town. Many of these situations are contextually driven and fine examples of me taking the moment as it comes. After all, you only live once!! On a few separate occasions my friends and I have been invited to drink and eat with some of the locals. There are many people who love to practice their English, listen to you sound ridiculous speaking Chinese and of course, Drink!! I arrived in China during the heart of the world cup. I had previously been in France and Israel; in every country I went to there were people crowded around televisions to watch soccer. This made me really happy to see. I really felt like sports had brought the world together. It establishes a common language understandable by all and thus allows us to share life with any and everyone. But back to China. There are these giant BBQs where 7-8 giant projector screens are placed around a parking lot. 3-4 different restaurants serve food and beer till about 4 in the morning. I had the pleasure of partaking in the fun many nights. There are some really fun games like liar’s dice and “Dao yi dei ju?” (Landlord card game) that many Chinese people know. The best part is by the end of the night when you are finished drinking and eating you can hop on a motorcycle taxi for 4 RMB and go home. Motorcycle taxis are a blast.

I almost forgot. They love Karaoke. They have these giant 5-8 story buildings filled with separate Karaoke rooms. They are called K-Party or KTV. I won’t say much more but this can be a lot of fun. Just be sure you don’t go to one of the “nice” KTVs because it may in fact be a brothel!

As I said earlier I have encountered a lot of staring. But what do you expect? I look different! We are curious about the things we don’t know. There have been some really funny photo times though. One day I was walking in this giant park and came across this dude and his girlfriend. He asked if he could have a picture with me. I took a picture with him and then with his girlfriend. Hilarious!

Now for the good stuff. Teaching. I was quite apprehensive about teaching before I came to China and even for the first month or so. What was I going to be doing? Were there guidelines? How would I attune with the different age groups? Would they be able to have fun and learn? Could I be a good teacher? None of this apprehensive anticipation helped when I arrived. I was soon to find the company I signed up with is rather unorganized and unclear in its communication with employees. (Part of this is due to the fact that I arrived during summer school. There were many different students signed up for different periods of time so class sizes were always fluctuating.) Also, my bosses are like no bosses I have ever had in the past. One man is a native Hong Kong man who spent half his life in Australia. He is a nice man but has a much different way of living. He smokes a lot of cigarettes and it always sounds like he is stressed to the max when speaking to my other boss. I know he is a good man, I just think he is going through a tough stretch with his personal life and trying to keep the company afloat. My other boss is a 27 year old Belgian man named Bart (quite a fitting name if you ask me). He is recently married to a Chinese woman in the past year and father of an 8 month old baby boy. I see a lot of myself in Bart. He is known as The foreign teacher and is very good at teaching. Other aspects of his life may be up to interpretation! I spend a good amount of time next to Bart. He has a great sense of humor but sometimes its as if that’s all he has. His view of China is quite negative and pessimistic leaving me questioning why he is here in the first place. He has made many inappropriate jokes that in the states would have landed him an expensive lawsuit. I’m not too worried about it though. It goes both ways with people like Bart. Usually adopting this way of looking at life is to adapt in some way or another. Maybe its because he has seen so many different countries and ways of living that he understands there is nothing to take that seriously. Maybe he has a low self-esteem and attempts to compensate by laughing at everything. Maybe its just who he is. Nonetheless I have learned to accept it for what it is. The company and I signed a contract when I was still in the states. It stated I would be working 40 hours a week and for 5 days per week. Immediately when I arrived I found out it would be more like 48 per week and for 6 days. I was a little frustrated so I let him know. I also found that everyone would be leaving except for me for the last two weeks.  All of this is a good lesson on the importance of asking questions and knowing your own needs. In the future I will know more about what is necessary for me to live comfortably. Its all good, I booked myself a ticket to Shanghai for 5 days in the middle of September against his wishes. It is only fair. I am a little worried about the school year here. I don’t know what to expect. Part of what I am learning about teaching is to not have too many expectations. Some days the kids are wound up while other days they can’t wait to learn. Also, we sometimes get new students and I never know when this will happen. There is horrible communication between the bosses and the staff here. Schedules are constantly being changed and teachers are forced to accommodate on last second notice. Perfect example, its my second day of teaching ever. I get done with class and apparently I need to do a face-to-face interview with 2 of the parents explaining their child’s progress over the past 2 months. Now how much could I know about their child after only one day of  teaching? I will explain more about random occurrences later, as this place is full of them. (I am currently a little ticked off at their “system” right now. The fact that I called it a system may even be giving them too much credit!) Bart often says we are in the service industry. I always thought of education to be separate from service but I can now see the correlation. We are here to meet people’s needs, teach them and help them to be satisfied. Teaching has been super interesting. I have totally become an old man. I wake up at 7, get on a bus/taxi by 745, start work around 815, finish, workout, get dinner, shower and go to sleep. Kind of funny, as heavy as this schedule can seem I have had some of my happiest and simple moments during these days. I have really looked forward to my workouts and dinner at the end of the day. Watching movies/reading while eating has been real nice too!

Some things have remained constant though. I still very much love interacting with people. Of course, some days are better than others, but for the most part I have had a great time with most of my students. Its always a matter of how prepared I am. If I have things to do and I know my students abilities it is fun to teach. One of my English teachers once taught us that life is a series of patterns and cycles. We learn many of the same lessons through different experiences and it is our ability to accurately recognize which situation we are in and embrace

next blog update

Traveling – Yangjiang (beach city in Guangdong) this weekend. Hong Kong next weekend. Shanghai September 8th-12th. Possibly Tibet beginning of October???

People interest foreigners

Bargaining

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Closing the door on France, Opening an eye to China!!

I can already tell it is going to be a challenge to stay up on these blogs. Anyways, the last I left off was in Paris I believe. What a beautiful and romantic place. Their culture seemed so much different from the chaos and fear in the Middle East. I observed the Israelis to be quite hospitable though upon introduction. We stayed with some distant relatives on a Kibbutz and were constantly bombarded with food and drinks. I never want to be disrespectful so I could never stop eating. France is so amazing. There is so much history on every street and building that I encountered. We saw all the typical spots like the Eiffel Tour and the Avenue des Champs Elysees. I loved running/walking on the river that runs through Paris. I had a lot of fun and for a good portion of the time; I was able to do my own thing and not be confined to soley tourist stuff. For a couple nights my good buddy Romaine showed up to party down and give me the authentic Parisienne experience. I think I can learn so much more when I have friends who are native. I don’t have to say much about this because it was a lot of drinking and exploring but I got a better idea about how French people are in general from him. As it turns out, many French people are very rude, and not only because I am an American. Romaine was able to point out many examples when people would do things that I would consider to be very impolite. I cannot judge because I do understand that there are different ways to live life that can all seem normal depending upon the context of the location and culture. I think back to a lot of the lessons I learned in social psychology. There is this theory called the urban overload effect. What this tries to explain is the phenomenon that takes place when there is too much external stimuli and humans choose to focus on the most prominent aspects of their lives (the information most readily available to them) So in cities there are simply too many people to look in the eye and acknowledge their presence. This kind of bums me out because I really like meeting people; moreover I like to see people smiling, interacting, and enjoying themselves. I know when we are overloaded and too uncomfortable/comfortable we miss out on some potentially awesome experiences. This could just be my imagination but anyways I had a great time with my family cruising around and eating the best food ever. I could spend a whole blog on the food. The tartars were amazing. Tartar is the word for raw in French and you are served either salmon or beef at most places. To die for… Ahhh. The crepes, fresh baguettes, onion soups, escargots, Panini of all sorts(mozzerella, tomatoe, basil/ham, cheese and bell pepper) espresso, and crazy salads(some with a fried eggs and hamburger beef) are worth mentioning as well. But time carries on and before I knew it was time for my family to leave; everyone was headed back to the states and I would soon be destined for the much anticipated newest and mysterious chapter of my life, China.

I cannot lie, I was SCARED! My family left in the morning and I was to spend the rest of the day in Paris. I had been waiting for this moment for quite some time. Back in the US I knew there would come a point where I was on my own again and forced to begin a new life with more responsibility. I was all alone in country across the world from where I knew I was safe. The anticipation was daunting. I had so many questions for myself. Would I be able to succeed? Would I be able to be the best at teaching? Would I be able to successfully immerse myself in a culture I knew so little about? Would I be lonely? I knew this point would come and it was slowly eating at me. For so long I have been comfortable knowing all I had to do was finish school and take care of myself. It is so easy when you have a solid social support network to forget about what the future may behold or demand. I truly believe that much of life is about sharing experience with others and when you have people in your life who care about you it is so thoughtless. I missed all my friends and old life so bad. I decided to go explore some art museums to get my mind out of my head and I am so glad I did…

I had previously given my mom a call to ask her advice on a modern art museum. As I said earlier there are countless old and historic monuments and art forms that one can see while in Paris. However, I have always loved the Museum of Modern Art(MOMA) in San Francisco so I decided something of this nature may be interesting for me to see. My mother suggested the Centre Pompidou located very close to Notre Dame. What a fantastic place. The theme of the first exhibit I visited was art from communistic countries in the past 70 years. These countries have made an effort to suppress expression in any form that strays too far from the considered norm. There was a project in an Albanian city in which the entire city was previously painted white. The before photos depict a run down, dreary town full of trash and abandoned equipment/housing. The artist who was previously a mayor had a dream of adding color to the entire city. The after photos showed a city completely opposite of the grey and dullness it had once represented. There was life! All that was needed was a little color that could be visually shared by everyone to boost the condition of living there. It is now a thriving place. Immediately an opiphany came to me; I understand there are many aspects to being human. We are students, teachers, family, friends, athletes, lovers, individuals and members of the world, the list goes on… Everyone has every aspect that the other shares but it is where we lie on a continuum in each separate one that makes us unique. I felt like I fully understood this as I saw the town’s transformation. There were aspects in my life that had always had much color while other parts were seemingly grey. The art was beginning to help solve and guide me through my then current dilemmas. I was then realizing the importance of imagination. This transformation may have never taken place had it not been for the mayor who had a vision he wanted to share with his world. There is a two-way inter-convertability between life and art that may be important for us to be aware of. There is a “necessity of inhabiting space differently, of reinventing our mental furniture.” – Virginia Wolfe

After this I moved upstairs to a floor filled with art done by women. This quote may sum up some of what I would like to convey and explains so much of what perplexes me on an everyday basis:

“…the hallucinations as a point of departure, starting at an age when we begin to be aware of the self, the natural world, the cosmos, human beings, blood, flowers and so many other things, were as violently branded onto the walls of my sight, my hearing, my heart, in the form of events filled with mystery…Often strange, unidentifiable things, that would appear and disappear in the depths of my soul, would follow me obsessively, with a persistence that resembled that of vengeance and for many years this plunged me into a state of semi-insanity. The only way to escape these things while continuing to explore what they could possibly be, was to represent them visually.” – Yayul Kusama

I love when I can read something written from so long ago and fully attune with the person who wrote it. There are so many instances in life when we cannot express a feeling because the cognition behind it is so complicated seeming. Words can do so much for us and so can art. There was a section of the women’s art section focusing on kinetic art. Here the goal is to avoid subjectivity and make the viewer utilize their own senses. There were all sorts of art pieces where I would have to shimmy around to see a whole new way of perceiving the piece. It is just like the old saying, beauty is in the eye of the beholder; to be less cliché, life is about perspective and how we choose to view it at any given time. “Our life is a creation of our mind.” –Buddha. Someone had written, to “reinvent the vocabulary of configuration.” I thought that was quite nice. I needed to take a break so I walked up to the roof where I cold get a view of the entire city. Its kind of funny, I felt a lot like Amelie (from the movie) when she would gaze over all the roofs of paris and imagine how many people were making love =) Sorry, maybe a little graphic for our PG-13 readers, hehe.

The last and not least of the exhibits I visited was “Dreamlands.” This was an exhibit dedicated to breakthroughs in architecture and plans for a more colorful future in the world of architecture as an art and as well as a means for work. I saw some proposals for development that would shake the world. Places like Shanghai or Hong Kong who already has an interactive light showed choreographed throughout its skyline can only compare. Apparently Walt Disney had a totally extravagant (most would say far-fetched) plan to build a metropolis of the future. He called it the Experimental Prototype Community of Tommorow(EPCOT). There were some splendid ideas and quotes. One architect had written, “Art is a superior form of knowledge, a means of individual renewal that contributes to a better future for all. To put my imagination at the service of the community to bring about lasting peace, justice and universal freedom.”- Bodys Isek Kingelez from Ville Fantome

I sometimes think, I would love to do something that will change the world. It sounds silly and perhaps naïve but they say if you’re dreams don’t scare you, you’re not dreaming big enough. How wonderful it is that other people feel the same way and have found a way to express it whether it be through art, teaching/learning, research, hospitalities, health care, the list goes on… To say the least, I really learned a lot during my visit to Centre Pompidou. It had been over three hours and was time enough for me to get back to a pub to watch some futball.

At the pub I was alone writing post cards. I wanted to let the people I love know I was thinking of them. I was sitting near some frenchies who could have been but a few years older than me and I could actually pick up on their conversation. I thought it was kind of funny because I could understand so much more than I could relay verbally. Travelling has already taught me a lot about being on the other side, about being a foreignor. I understand there is a lot of tourism in San Francisco but now I am the foreignor. I don’t know if it is because I am in a new place and like a dear in the headlights but people seem to look at you differently. I would come to find out even more about this when I arrived in China.

China to be continued very soon….

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

A la prochaine Israel et bienvenue Paris!!!

Ca va monde des ordinatures!!! Wow, so excited to be in Paris. The Middle East was absolutely nuts. I went there with little knowledge about the history or current events, and no knowledge of the languages, Hebrew and Arabic. I love languages, if I could do college again I may choose something in linguistics. So much of how we think and operate is derived from the languages we know. There are only so many ways we know how to express ourselves so I suppose the more languages one can acquire the more likely he/she is able to change lens’ and understand the world. Written Arabic is beautiful to look at. Found out a bit about Hebrew as well. The language has an alphabet like English and with all sorts of silent rules to match! I won’t begin to try and explain. As I have said earlier it is amazing the amount of fear people are conditioned to live with on an every day basis. The fear just makes me feel uncomfortable but the people don’t seem to mind. I must also take into account that I was there as a tourist; I wasn’t there long enough to begin to understand the social dynamics. When I discuss this “fear” idea with the locals they agree but it is seen as a necessity. There are some really wonderful things about Israeli culture as well. The country acts more as a community because everyone needs to contribute to keep it afloat. After high school everyone is required to enter the army (however if you are Muslim then they won’t accept you!!) As much as I despise violence it is nice to hear about people coming together. Part of their training is to learn about the countrie’s history. Anyways, I will come back to Israel in my first Paris discussion because I am just beginning to realize the importance of seeing so many places that have been referenced throughout history.

Paris, Paris, Paris. Je l’adore ici. From my own observations, this is one of the most diverse places on earth. Talk about style and elegance. This place is it. Everything from the buildings to the people to the food are BEAUTIFUL. I do no justice saying this. Cafes are flooded with locals and travellers alike to converse and enjoy the environment. The language is amazing. Maybe it is just my ear but I hear so much flavor in how they speak. Intriguing to say the least. I went to the Eiffel Tour yesterday and cruised the Paris Canal (cant remember the name of the actual river) with the family. Paris has a fantastic walking scene. Everywhere you turn there is a museum and or age-old church. This is a city for artists and lovers. Between many of the major roads there are small one way roads that create a maze of things to see and do. Cafes, crepes, bagettes, meat, CHEESE, tons of private art shops, Gelato, restaraunts are around every turn. I love walking down the Paris canal. This morning I ran from my apartment to the Eiffel tour again. It was nice and early so I was able to enjoy the calmness and serenity of the morning. Once the day begins there are quite alot of people. Tons of traffic during rush hour because people commute from outside Paris. I went to the Louvre this morning. Quite an amazing place. I ended up finding a ton of psychology in the art I saw. It is so amazing to me how socially emotionally intelligent artists have been for hundreds of years. When I look at all the different facial expressions and the scene I get a feeling like I know what is going on. There is death and war, love and birth. The faces say so much, in some cases I even get a little emotional attuning/empathizing with their dispositons/portrayals. I’m kind of a sap! And the scenery…little did I know that my experience in Israel would come back to me so quickly. There were tons of pictures depicting the Romans and different religious scenes. I could see in the background the same dessert I had just been in. Why now do I truly begin to appreciate what I have just seen and learned? I never know when something I have learned can be applied. Life is awesome!!

Meeting people has been real fun. So many interesting people. Met a writer for TV yesterday and a french woman who is studying American culture and English. She kind of weaseled her way into conversation but I ended up learning alot chatting it up. At a certain point we started talking about the difference between English and French. She said English has a much wider array of words to describe different situations. I forget how rich our language is, double entendre’s and non literal statements that become a part of everyday speech… There is so much we can say to describe life, to accurately portray our dispositions so others can share it with us. I am brain farting, will get back to this later =)

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment